A few glorious moments of now, so we can let go of forever
by Jhos Singer
Summer has just begun, the days are long and warm (well mostly warm, this is the Bay after all), and lush stone fruits and rotund tomatoes are coming in. Schools are out and traffic patterns are shifting. Pride month #48 is underway, signaling the staying power of hope and resistance, celebration and insistence. Abundance and freedom are the themes of the season. Time to play and enjoy, to gobble and be full.
Jewish holy days all but disappear during the summer—with one notable exception. Tisha B’av, which commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples (along with an array of other Jewish calamities), usually falls towards the end of summer (August 1 this year). Interesting that this holiday of mourning and loss should come just as we are glutted with fresh fruit, light and warmth. In fact, it makes perfect sense—Judaism is a path of sh’leimut/wholeness—the berries AND the thorns, the warm days AND the sunburn. A fit of ceremonial collective grief brings us to tears, distracting us from the peaches and plums, as if to say, “Wake up earthling! Start canning and preserving the sweetness of summer for the winter that once again comes!” Tisha B’av reminds us that nothing is permanent; all great walls will crumble, and once built up will crumble again. And so, summer will yield to the fall in the annual convulsion of glorious sun and edible bounty.
This week’s Torah Portion, Korach, portends the ever shifting seasons of fate and fortune, plenty and hardship, triumph and failure. Moses is in the midst of a series of unfortunate events—his leadership is being repeatedly questioned, insurgency is in the air, and finally one tribal head, Korach, blatantly contests Moses and Aaron’s authority to lead the Israelites. “Rav l’chem—Enough of you!” he cries. “Everyone in this community is holy, every one of them. So what makes you think you can put yourself above the rest of us?” Moses falls on his face, and says to him and his minions, “In the morning God will sort this all out—some will draw near to their source, and others will not, and God will chose those who draw close.” Warning shots are fired; people scatter, choose sides, follow leaders and—in a moment of postdiluvian hyperrealism—the earth opens up and swallows Korach and his followers in one seismic gulp.
This Torah tale hits on so many familiar notes—human fragility being the loudest. As this tragic story unfolds we see Moses as an exasperated and beleaguered leader and we feel Korach’s incredulity and frustration of being unseen. As they threaten and challenge each other we might feel anger rise up, and when the jaw-dropping climax swallows the rebels and their households and their riches whole, we are either left cheering or horrified. And then the most amazing thing of all happens—life goes on. Rituals are carried out, people gripe, a plague breaks out, new tribal leaders are appointed, sacrifices are made and, despite their fears or trepidation, the people carry on.
And so must we. Leaders come and go, some for decades and some for minutes. Cultures mutate, languages go silent, music evolves, and one generation yields its fruit to the next. Summer and all of her wild abundance arrives in a flurry of colorful foliage, fragrant drupes, long lazy days and epic romance only to fade into fall’s sad beauty; winter whittles away the waning days while whipping the world with wind and water until it wilts, spent, into spring, and then, back to summer.
Korach was right—we are all holy and each of us enjoys a personal and unique connection to God. Alas for poor Korach, he made one fatal mistake—instead of deepening his connection to the Divine, he compared himself to Moses. Rather than learning from his leader, he challenged him. His rebellion wasn’t in the pursuit of justice; instead he was reacting to his wounded sense of self. Instead of attacking Moses he could have been honing his own leadership skills, finding his own rhythm, evolving in his own time. Instead his revolution was empty. And even so, despite the cataclysm, life goes on, seasons change, day rolls into night, night rolls into day.
On this Shabbat, may we enjoy a few glorious moments of now, so we can let go of forever. May we be fully present to celebrate our freedom and abundance, justice and dignity. And though they pass all too quickly, let us drink deeply from the well of blessing, without fear of scarcity. Take a sweet shabbes minute to embrace our unique gifts, talents and flair. And above all, savor every second of peace.
June 30, 2017